You Wouldn’t Understand: Examining Teen Angst

When I was a child, I was infatuated with teenage life. Thinking back, it’s understandable why I envisioned my ideal high school wardrobe and planned each prom—I grew up with the Disney Channel Original Movie lens on adolescence. Becoming a teenager represented self-expression, discovery, and yes, a slew of superficial details that decorated the entire dream.

“Teen angst” is common element of a young adult depiction. The term has come to describe emotions and expressions of contempt, frustration, misunderstanding, and even rebellion. The connotation of teen angst is dependent on context, but it is widely taboo.

What makes the concept of teen angst such an interesting case study is the contrast of the popular term and the causes beneath it. When we think of an “angsty teen,” we commonly think of an erratic, typically black-clad adolescent shouting something along the lines of “No one understands me!” While played-out, I’ll admit that this character can be an light-hearted depiction of a stage nearly everyone experiences to some degree. However, what’s crucial is that we take it for what it is: an exaggerated amalgam of true teenage symptoms.

Angst in itself is characterized by fear and anxiety, and yet “teen angst” has come to represent irrational irritability and erratic behavior. The term “teen angst” is not misguided or absurd. Conventionally, it should describe the widespread feeling of anxiety among adolescents–not because their iPhone displays are cracked, but because of the sheer economic turmoil that is to be placed in their hands. Because their well-being is interrupted by the prospects of debt and unemployment. Because the political landscape is just as erratic as the “teen angst” symbol they are depicted as.

Throughout the long relationship of teenagers and this image, they consistently have been able to reclaim “teen angst” and its implications, using this passionate term to further passions of their own. To be an “angsty teen” then became a proud outcry, amplified in large quantities.

Even now, while these “angsty teens” bare themselves against true tragedies and critical political issues, they are depicted as irrational and lacking control. The clear solution is understanding and dialogue on both ends of the new generation-older generation relationship. This is facilitated by a resistance to social and generational cleavages; allowing and encouraging honest perspective.

While this is the ideal scenario, the power of polarization has proved a severe obstacle to this healthy relationship. In the meantime, teens can use the depictions of them as empowerment and leverage, while making conscious efforts to facilitate reciprocal understanding. Teens as a whole are beyond just fussy burdens. They have consistently proved they can surpass the teen angst cliche with tangible change. So sure, teenagers can be frustrated, stubborn, and resistant. Make an effort to consider this angst. I am certain many of them have reason to be.


Photo by Morgen Olsen ’18